|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, as the Children's Commissioner and the Chief Inspector of Prisons both told Sub-Committee F last week, they have complete freedom of access to the juxtaposed controls any time they please?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, indeed if that is what they said, that must be right. I sought to deal with the specific point about the Children's Commissioner. I referred to the meetings that we need to have for these issues to be discussed with my honourable friend Mr McNulty and officials. I undertook to ensure that that occurred. It is in the process of being organised.
In Committee, noble Lords were concerned to know whether there was a French equivalent and whether we were able to make appropriate contact. We are in the process of doing that. I hope that that reassures noble Lords.
I shall write to the noble Earl on the question of the monitor. We shall discuss Section 11 of the Children Act later, so I shall not speak about it now, although I remember it well because I took the Bill through your Lordships' House. We shall discuss important issues about the primary focus of the work being undertaken, and not seeking to conflict with that.
I am confident that it is appropriate to subcontract particular responsibilities. We need to use resources, especially people, effectively and properly within training and contract regimes that are as transparent as possible within commercial confidentiality. The issues relating to children need to be addressed. We have done that in an appropriate way with the French and the English commissioner. We recognise the importance of staff being protected. No redundancies is about as good as it gets in these circumstances. We have to create a proper system which enables people to do their jobs efficiently. The three hours should be seen in the context of the maximum amount of time and not the norm. That is not the intention underlying this part of the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her careful and considered reply, and for
7 Feb 2006 : Column 579
her assurance that the contractors' documents concerning the training of the officers who will be employed on these duties will be placed in the public domain.
The Minister also spoke about the detailed operational requirements which are the equivalent of PACE, although not exactly the same because of the different circumstances that apply to the duties which officers have to perform under the provisions. I say en passant that the duties they perform in arresting and holding suspected illegal immigrants are very similar to those that the police perform in arresting criminal suspects. Will the noble Baroness write to confirm that detailed operational requirements that are the equivalent of PACE will also be in the public domain? Will they be in accordance with the provisions of the rules which already prescribe a code of conduct for immigration officers in these circumstances? When the Minister replies, it would be useful if she could cover that point also.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. That is a useful assurance. The codes of conduct are of material importance to those of us who are anxious about the employment of private contractors generally. It is not simply about incorporating adequate safeguards into the system. Some of us go further: we dislike the notion of employing contractors in these duties because of the risks deployed, as every noble Lord who has spoken has said, in particular the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, with his immense experience of children's issues.
We are pleased to hear that there is an equivalent of the Children's Commissioner in France. It is remarkable that we had to wait until Report before discovering such an essential fact. The existence of such a person, and the liaison between our own Children's Commissioner and his opposite number in France, are not the whole answer to the objections that we have raised. We are still anxious that vulnerable peoplein particular childrencan be in the custody of officials who are subject to only the remotest of controls via the immigration officers at the ports concerned and, through them, to the authorities in this country. It is one removed from the supervision and monitoring that we exercise over, for example, the immigration detention centres in this country, which any noble Lord can inspect and the Chief Inspector of Prisons inspects regularly. We think that it will be more difficult for such oversight to be exercised in the juxtaposed controls. The existence of the private contractors adds an element of risk which does not exist elsewhere.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment deals with what is appropriate in an arrest or a detention. The clause, although it now sits in the "Information" part of the Bill, was introduced with other amendments on terrorism, which are now Clauses 7, 51 to 55. It provides new powers to detain embarking passengers who are not British citizens for up to 12 hours and to establish the person's identity, compliance with conditions of leave and whether return to the UK is prohibited or restricted. It also applies to all non-British citizens who are embarking passengers, not just those considered to pose a national security risk.
We have tabled the amendment because of a discussion that took place in the other place involving Mrs Gillan, who asked the Minister whether he would comment on the individual's ability to contact a legal adviser, or his embassy or High Commission, during the period of detention. Mr McNulty replied:
"Before the 12 hours are up, there will be no right to legal representation and none of the other rights afforded by PACE. It is not an arrest for a criminal offence. It is detention under the administrative powers of immigration legislation. If it goes beyond 12 hours, the legal rights and powers under PACE will kick in, but not before".
"Currently, we are able to take all that information from someone only if they are arrested. Clearly, we do not want to arrest everybody . . . In that regard, having the facility, which is all that the two new clauses propose, to establish beyond doubt a person's identity as they are leaving and to take a record of that by biometrics is a more than appropriate halfway house".[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 27/10/05; cols. 308-10.]
The point that I make is that arrest is unpleasant but it carries legal safeguards on the right for representation. The clause envisages continuous detention for up to 12 hours. It is unlikely that anyone would realise that the embarking passenger was being detained. They would not be allowed to tell anyone unless the clause is amended.
Many other countries follow the type of legislation that we enact in this country. I would hate to think of somebody being detained for up to 12 hours for no reason other than to seek information and at the same time being denied any right of representation whatever. In that respect, I beg to move.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the purpose of holding somebody isif you like, it is an administrative detentionto establish their identity, nationality and/or immigration status. The vast majority of people, thereforewe are back to
7 Feb 2006 : Column 581
maximum timeswill be held for much shorter lengths of time than 12 hours. Twelve hours, as I have indicated, is a maximum. At present, those detained on arrival under paragraph 16(1) or (1A) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 have access to telephone facilities once they are taken to the holding facilities in the port. The treatment of embarking passengers detained under the new limited power will mirror those existing powers, so people will have access to telephones during that time if they are transferred.
As I have indicated, in practice, the detention will be kept to the shortest possible period necessary to satisfactorily establish the person's identity and/or immigration status, after which the person would be released. If the examination reveals grounds sufficient to justify the arrest of the passenger for a criminal offence, he will be arrested and transferred to police custody where, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has indicated, the usual PACE safeguards will apply.
My argument is that the amendment is not necessary. The circumstances that we are describing, with access to phones, a minimum timewe have also put a maximum amount of timeand the fact that this is an administrative detention to establish who the person is are appropriate. Normally I accept the point that one wishes to give access as quickly as possible, and we think that 12 hours is right. I hope on that basis that the noble Lord is able to withdraw the amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|